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Study: From Forest to Faucet, Fracking's Impact Weighed

February 27, 2012

ALBANY, N.Y. - As New York considers the pros and cons of allowing hydraulic fracturing - or fracking - for natural gas exploration, a new study looks at its potential impact on the state's forests, which are crucial to clean water. The report, by the Nature Conservancy, considers the potential cumulative effects of high-volume hydraulic fracturing in Tioga County, 61 percent of which is forested. It concludes that the forest disturbance will be extensive.

Report co-author Cara Lee says concern over fracking usually centers on protecting clean, safe water, but people should not overlook the role intact forests play in filtering water.

"When the discussion about hydro-fracking occurs, there is a focus on water, but it's not necessarily linked to the living fabric that provides that clean water."

The report says up to 450 miles of new roads to be built in the county would fragment the large sections of forest, resulting in disruption and loss of habitat for plants and animals. According to the natural gas industry, fracking is safe and clean, and natural gas is needed to counter reliance on foreign oil.

Sean Mahar with Audubon New York says the study finds that fracking could reduce the overall habitat quality for birds, forcing them to leave and damaging the fast-growing passtime of birdwatching, a $1.6 billion industry in New York.

"If we're going to take steps to expand natural gas drilling, that's going to have an impact on the bird species that people like to travel across New York to see, and that's going to have a direct impact on tourism revenue coming into local communities - especially in upstate New York, where they need it the most right now."

Lee warns New York decision makers to consider the pros and cons of fracking carefully.

"Many other states in the country are living with the impacts of hydro-fracking. Here in New York, we still have the opportunity to go slow and try to get it right."

New Yorkers historically have supported the state's forests by protecting Adirondack Park, the Catskill Forest Preserve and the New York City watershed, Lee notes.

"Many New Yorkers do make the connection between the importance of drinking water and protecting forests, but it's a message that we need to get out for new generations of New Yorkers, as well."

Rather than looking at fracking from a site-by-site perspective, Lee says the state needs a full understanding of its cumulative ecological impacts, and the Nature Conservancy study is a first step.

The Tioga County report is available at www.nature.org.

Mark Scheerer, Public News Service - NY